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Baird's Tapir Fact File

Tapirus bairdii

Credit: Baird's Tapir, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Weight

150-300kg

(330-660lbs)

Length

2m

(6.5ft)

Lifespan

Wild 20 years

Captive 20 years

Diet

Herbivore

Leaves, Fruit

Conservation Status

IUCN

Endangered

The Baird's tapir is the largest of the three American species of tapir and is found across parts of Central and South America.

These animals are herbivores which seek out leaves and fruit to feed on. This is picked up using a fleshy extension to the upper limb which resembles a shortened elephants trunk and is known as the proboscis.

Young are often referred to as 'watermelons' due to their appearance of stripes and spots across the body. These provide camouflage in the dappled sunlight on the forest floor.

Unfortunately this species is increasingly threatened by habitat loss and hunting.

Read on to learn more about these marvellous mammals.

Appearance

What does the Baird's tapir look like?

Across their body the Baird's tapir has dark brown fur which is described as bristly to the touch. There are pale-grey or yellow patches on the cheeks and throat. The ears have a white-edge along them.

One of the most prominent features of the tapirs is their long, flexible snout which is an adaption to help sniff out food and also helps to breathe when swimming.

Their body is thin at the front and wider towards the back an adaptation which helps them to move through the thick undergrowth.

On the front foot are four digits with one being reduced in size. Only three are present on the back foot.

At the end of the body is a short tail measuring between 7 and 13cm (2.75-5in).

Baird's tapir are the largest of the three South American tapir species. They measure an average of 2m (6.5ft) long and a weight of between 150 and 300kg (330-660lbs). Males tend to be slightly smaller than females.

Diet

What does the Baird's tapir eat?


The Baird's tapir is a herbivore. They will feed on plant parts, buds, twigs, shoots, leaves and fallen fruit. These animals must consume large amounts of food each day.

Food is picked up using the snout and then moved to their mouth.

These animals play an important role in dispersing the seeds of plants through the forest helping them to germinate.

Baird's Tapir

Credit: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Range

Where can you find the Baird's tapir?

Baird's tapir are found in Central and South America. Here they occur in the following countries – Belize; Colombia; Costa Rica; Guatemala; Honduras; Mexico; Nicaragua and Panama.

They are confirmed to be extinct in El Salvador while their current status in Ecuador is uncertain.

Habitat

What kind of environment does the Baird's tapir live in?

These animals make their home in forested areas mainly close to ponds or streams. Palm swamps are also inhabited.

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Reproduction

How does the Baird's tapir produce its young?

Breeding has been recorded year round in this species but is most common before the rainy season.


Females give birth to a single calf though twins have occurred on rare occasions. At birth they weigh 5-8kg (11-18lbs). Gestation lasts 390-400 days.


Calves are referred to as watermelons due to their coat patterning which is brown with cream stripes and spots running along the length of their body. These help to camouflage the calf in the dappled light of the forest floor.


Mothers provide care for their young for between 1 and 2 years. Weaning off of milk takes place at 12 months old.

Behavior

What does the Baird's tapir do with its day?

Their vocalization is a shrill whistle which can be used to communicate with their calf or to remove other adults from their habitat.

Much of their activity takes place by night. During they day they will seek shelter in patches of thick vegetation.

They are capable swimmers and will take to the water to escape predators. These animals will sit in water to cool themselves down as well.

These animals are primarily solitary and undertake most activities alone but appear tolerant of other individuals in their territory. Occasionally they are seen charging at one another.

Baird's Tapir

Credit: Bernard DUPONT, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Predators and Threats

What is impacting the survival of the Baird's tapir?

Natural predators of the Baird's tapir include cats such as the jaguar and cougar. They mainly take young individuals.

Numbers of the Baird's tapir are declining across their range and they are already believed to be extinct in El Salvador. A number of populations across the remainder of their range are also believed to be extinct.

A major factor in their decline has been habitat destruction and hunting. Hunting causes a large issue as due to their low reproductive rate their populations are slow to rise again after animals are removed. Hunting occurs for both food and sport.

Other smaller threats include disease, especially through encounters with livestock, capture for the pet trade and climate change.

Quick facts

These animals may also be known as the Central American tapir. In Belize they are known as the Mountain cow.

The closest relative of the tapir are the rhinos.

The Baird's tapir is named for the American naturalist, W.M. Baird who described the species for western science during an expedition to Mexico in 1843.

Belize recognize this species as their national animal.

Baird's Tapir

Credit: Eric Kilby from USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

References

Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Jackson, T. and Chinery, M., 2012. The illustrated encyclopedia of animals of the world. London: Southwater.

Animals.sandiegozoo.org. 2021. Tapir | San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants. [online] Available at: <https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/tapir> [Accessed 12 November 2021].

Garcìa, M., Jordan, C., O'Farril, G., Poot, C., Meyer, N., Estrada, N., Leonardo, R., Naranjo, E., Simons, Á., Herrera, A., Urgilés, C., Schank, C., Boshoff, L. & Ruiz-Galeano, M. 2016. Tapirus bairdiiThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T21471A45173340. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T21471A45173340.en. Downloaded on 12 November 2021.

Zoo, H., 2021. Baird’s Tapir, The Houston Zoo. [online] Houston Zoo. Available at: <https://www.houstonzoo.org/explore/animals/tapir-bairds/> [Accessed 12 November 2021].

Wells, J. 2009. "Tapirus bairdii" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 12, 2021 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Tapirus_bairdii/

EDGE of Existence. 2021. Baird's Tapir – EDGE of Existence. [online] Available at: <http://www.edgeofexistence.org/species/bairds-tapir/> [Accessed 13 November 2021].

Tapir Specialist Group. 2021. Baird’s Tapir | Tapir Specialist Group. [online] Available at: <https://tapirs.org/tapirs/bairds-tapir/> [Accessed 13 November 2021].

Zoonewengland.org. 2021. Baird's Tapir | Franklin Park Zoo. [online] Available at: <https://www.zoonewengland.org/franklin-park-zoo/our-animals/mammals/hoofed/bairds-tapir/> [Accessed 13 November 2021].

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